How to build a warlord in 5th edition

4th edition was much maligned, and not always unfairly. But it introduced several cool things to the game, one of which was the popular concept of the warlord a core class. How can we recreate the warlord in 5th edition?

Defining the warlord

The 4th edition Player’s Handbook defined the warlord as ‘a commander who leads from the front.’ Notably, this was not only a new class, but a core class, one of only eight when the game was launched in 2008. Artificers, barbarians, bards, druids, monks, and sorcerers came later.

  • In game terms, the warlord was a leader: a character that inspires, heals, and aids other characters.
  • They were also martial: their power came from strength, willpower, training, and dedication, not magic.
  • Their key ability scores were Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma. Tactical warlords relied on Intelligence; inspiring warlords, conversely, preferred Charisma.
  • They were proficient with crossbows, slings, and almost all melee weapons, as well as shields and all but the heaviest types of armour.
  • In terms of hit points per level, they were on a par with the cleric.   

5th edition options

People have tried to homebrew their own version of the warlord. This is a massive undertaking, and I would advise against it. The artificer – the only new class to be released since 2014 – went through at least three major revisions before it was finally published in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. There have also been several attempts at a psionic class, but none of them quite worked, and the idea has been shelved. We are better off creating a warlord with the tools at our disposal.

Unfortunately, that might mean some compromises need to be made. Let’s go through some of the options available to us.

Bard: College of Valour

The bard is a full spellcaster in 5th edition, in the same league as wizards and clerics. This, of course, is not quite what we’re looking for. Thematically, they revolve around music, which is also not quite right. But we can tweak this. Look at the wording below (italics mine in each case):

  • Bardic inspiration: ‘You can inspire others through stirring words or music.’
  • Spellcasting focus: ‘You can use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus.’
  • Song of Rest: ‘you can use soothing music or oration
  • Countercharm: ‘you can use musical notes or words of power’

So, there’s nothing to stop us from taking the music out of the bard.

At first, the College of Valour seems like a good fit ­­– armour proficiency, Combat Inspiration, Extra Attack – but, mechanically, it’s not as great as other subclasses. Combat Inspiration is wasted on damage rolls, and light armour with a high Dexterity is often better than half-plate. Rogues have sneak attack, paladins have divine smite: you don’t get much to boost your damage output.

One tip from RPGBOT.net: take a level in hexblade warlock. You get to use Charisma for attack and damage, and gives you access to cantrips like booming blade. But as RPGBOT says, at this point, you’d be better off with pretty much any other bard subclass.     

Bard: College of Eloquence

This is an excellent subclass, first introduced in Mythic Odysseys of Theros last year. For an ‘inspiring’ warlord, this is a good fit, since it essentially powers up your Bardic Inspiration ability. Still a bard, though, so not a martial character.

Cleric: War Domain

Another full caster, but at least this one is themed around war, and War God’s Blessing feels like an ability that would fit well with the warlord. The problem is, it’s the only war priest feature that is aimed at improving other characters’ attacks, and the class will feel like a cleric more than a warlord, no matter how hard you pretend otherwise.

Cleric: Order Domain

This was introduced in Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica in 2018 and reprinted in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything last year. You’re still a cleric, which doesn’t quite fit, but you get some excellent class features that make sense for a warlord, like Voice of Authority and Order’s Demand. One to come back to.

Cleric 101: Order Domain - Posts - D&D Beyond

Fighter: Battle Master

There are a few battle master manoeuvres that are designed to support other party members: notably, Commander’s Strike, Distracting Strike, and Rally. You can also gain access to these manoeuvres by taking the Martial Adept feat. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything adds Bait and Switch, and also provides the option of taking manoeuvres at 1st level instead of a fighting style.

Fighter: Purple Dragon Knight

Also called the banneret, this subclass was introduced in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide in 2015 and is probably the closest subclass mechanically to the 4th edition warlord. And yet . . . it’s disappointing. The signature ability, Rallying Cry, is a means of sharing your Second Wind with the rest of your party, and it’s not very effective. Apart from a few other perks, this is just a fighter overstretching itself to try to be a weak party face.

Rogue: Mastermind

Another subclass from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, this one is also a bit disappointing. But it has potential. Crucially, there is an ability called Master of Tactics which lets you use the Help action as a bonus action and at a range of 30 feet. This is great!

Unfortunately, though, this is still, in essence, a rogue, not a front-line fighter, and the mastermind subclass feels like it was intended for games of political intrigue, not the battlefield.

Multiclassing

This might be a fun way to cherry-pick some of the best features of the subclasses above. The downside is that it can make you dependent on multiple ability scores, something I’ve written about elsewhere.

Three combinations that could work:

  • Take a few levels of bard (College of Eloquence).
  • Take a one-level dip into cleric (Order or War Domain).
  • Take three levels of fighter to get the Battle Master manoeuvres.

Look at the other subclasses in this article, I don’t think you gain enough from multiclassing to make a dip worthwhile.

Conclusion

Mounted Combat in D&D 5e - Dungeon Solvers

Overall, the kind of warlord you want to build depends on how martial, how tactical, and how inspiring you want to be.

  • For a martial or tactical build, I would recommend the battle master fighter. If you take this route, you could take a few levels in bard, but be careful not to miss the Extra Attacks and Ability Score Improvements you get as a fighter.
  • For an inspiring warlord, I would make a College of Eloquence bard but take a one-level dip into cleric (Order Domain). If martial weapon proficiency is important, though, start as a fighter instead, and take bard levels from 2nd onward. You can always go back to fighter for a few levels if you want to pick up some subclass features.

Neither of these options is going to be exactly the same as the 4th edition warlord of course. However, both routes will give you fun and satisfying abilities to deploy in combat, and with a bit of flavour, you can build the character you need.

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